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Lord Holme of Cheltenham: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Is he saying fatalistically that our share of global tourism is therefore bound to decrease and continue to decrease?

Viscount Astor: My Lords, no, I am not saying that. I am saying that the figures given by the noble Lord compared the industry in 1980 with that of today. However, it has been the subject of great change. If, for example, the economy of this country continues to improve in 1995 more people may take holidays abroad. That may widen the gap. We wish to attract as many people as possible to the country. The real point is that the market has changed over a period of time. The market for people going abroad is entirely different from the market for people visiting this country. Therefore, I do not believe that it is valid to compare them.

We must remember the importance of the tourist industry to all that the Department of National Heritage represents. It is the single most important part of the department. It provides much of the business for the arts and heritage. The spending of overseas visitors on what we might call "cultural tourism" is estimated at around £2 billion in 1993. More than one in three seats in West End theatres are occupied by tourists from overseas. Forty per cent. of those who go to London museums and galleries and over two-thirds of those who go to the capital's historic properties and cathedrals are visitors from abroad.

Tourism heightens the profile and increases the revenues of many artistic and cultural activities. It brings significant benefits and opportunities to all sectors of the national heritage, and it is for that reason that its development is a priority for the Department of National Heritage.

In recognising the very great strengths and achievements of the tourist industry, it is important that we do not become complacent. Britain's share in the international tourist market has fallen over the last 10 years or so, and we feel very strongly that the industry could improve its performance. We need to ensure that the industry offers the consumer good quality, wide

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choice and value for money. The industry must provide what consumers want, and it must market its products effectively at home and abroad.

We cannot, of course, prevent people in this country taking their holidays abroad. We must accept that there are different markets. People visit different places for different reasons. There are different products. The Department of National Heritage is determined to support the industry and to be its advocate in government at every level.

But a great deal of the responsibility must lie on the members of the industry. Government can and will offer advice and seek to strengthen incentives to improve. But in the end it is the industry which determines what is available to offer to the consumer. Investment and improvements in the quality and competitiveness of our tourism product can, in the end, only be brought about by the industry itself.

Government support for the industry continues largely to be channelled through the British Tourist Authority and the English Tourist Board. Grant in aid to the boards for 1995-96 is £44.5 million. Regional tourist boards, which are independent and not statutory bodies, including the London Tourist Board, continue to be funded for the delivery of specific programmes.

Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, I appreciate the noble Viscount allowing me to intervene. Perhaps he will say a few words in support of the initiative which I mentioned called Discover Islington. The people involved in that initiative are not the big boys. They are working on a shoestring and are supported by local authorities and their residents. Those people are attempting to say to tourists visiting this country that almost every borough has something worth seeing. Although the initiative does not receive funding, I am sure that it deserves at least a few kind words from the Minister.

Viscount Astor: My Lords, I was coming to that point. I am not aware of the details of that scheme. As the noble Lord described it, it sounds particularly interesting. I should be grateful if he will send me some information about it.

Lord Parry: My Lords, the fact is (is it not?) that it would be very easy for the Government and the Minister to accept the argument that it is impossible to judge the value of the stimulation of effective marketing and the amount of money invested in it. I have heard that argument over the past 15 years. The fact remains that if that is not done, then our share will decrease.

Viscount Astor: My Lords, I have absolutely no doubt that the money spent via the various statutory boards has a significant effect in this country and, indeed, abroad. The formula for funding the regional tourist boards was agreed between ETB and the regions and was based on scale, need and performance. Regions can apply for additional funding for specific projects from a tourism development fund.

Recent work with the boards is designed to ensure that the activities of both the ETB and the BTA are based on a rigorous analysis of the needs of the industry and do not substitute for activities which the industry

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should carry out for itself. We have asked the ETB to concentrate its efforts on strategic functions aimed at developing the quality of the product. It needs to work closely with the BTA and others to identify the types of holiday and the facilities that today's tourists are looking for. We aim to work with the industry to ensure that Britain provides the right products, and offers good quality at reasonable prices.

I know the importance to the industry of the classification and grading scheme for the accommodation sector. A widely recognised and used rating system makes it easier for the consumer to choose what he wants and to distinguish between good and poor. That acts as an incentive to operators to improve and reap the rewards of providing a quality product.

The ETB runs a number of grading schemes, the largest being the crown accommodation classification and grading scheme which covers all serviced accommodation. The ETB is currently reviewing a number of issues which relate to the scheme. It will make known its proposals in due course.

I must say to my noble friend Lord Wise that as far as I know, the industry does not support a statutory grading scheme. We want to make the crown scheme work so well that the industry will wish to join it and feel that it is to its advantage to do so. We do not believe in making new, burdensome regulations. We believe in deregulation.

There is clear evidence that the ETB plays a vital role in tourist information centres and that its work serves to encourage the TICs to provide a wider range of services than might otherwise be available. As a result, a substantial number of visitors are being inspired to travel further afield in this country. I have asked the English Tourist Board to give thought to how the services provided may be further enhanced and in particular to give further thought to the part which the TICs may play in making it easier to book a domestic holiday and in disseminating information on holiday prices.

The BTA is seeking to improve the allocation of its resources among overseas markets. The aim is to ensure that public funding is directed to those areas which will have an impact on visits to this country which will not be achieved by the private sector if left to itself. The authority is looking at the potential growth of particular markets and market segments and at the scope for increasing and improving the private sector's marketing effort.

The noble Baroness, Lady White, informed your Lordships of the successes and the work done by the Wales Tourist Board. I agree with the noble Baroness that it is doing an excellent job. I encourage the BTA and the Wales Tourist Board to work together where it is in both their interests to do so.

The noble Lord, Lord Walpole, asked about the CBI tourism action group. We are extremely pleased that it has established such a group. My department and the statutory tourist boards will collaborate with that group where it is appropriate to do so. As I said, the boards will continue to be the primary instrument through which government policy on tourism is implemented.

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The noble Lord asked about benchmarking. I believe that that means identifying good practices in the industry and seeking to draw the attention of all businesses to those good practices so that the lessons can be applied.

My noble friend Lord Wise asked about tourism signing. That is an extremely important issue. It is one of the main areas of concern highlighted in my department's investigation into regulations affecting the tourist industry. We reflected those anxieties in our contribution to the Department of Transport's recent review of signing policy. We are currently discussing detailed proposals from the Department of Transport. I hope that it will be possible to relax the existing criteria and to introduce new arrangements which will be better able to meet the needs of tourists and the tourist industry. It is too early to say exactly what form the new arrangements will take but I hope that they will be in place in good time for next year's summer season.

The noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, mentioned Northern Ireland. The BTA will continue to co-operate with the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and the tourist authorities in the Republic. I am sure that they will not be slow to appreciate the possibilities created by the new situation that is emerging in Northern Ireland.

In summary, the Government continue to be committed to doing all that they can to help improve the performance of the tourism industry. The statutory tourist organisations will continue to play a full part in those efforts. Tourism is a very successful sector of the economy and has great strengths. The figures for the first 10 months of 1994 are very encouraging. The Government and the boards will continue to play their part in the development of the industry, but the onus is on the industry itself to recognise and build on its strength. It must be prepared to change where change is necessary. We all have a part to play in ensuring that the United Kingdom remains one of the world's foremost tourist destinations.


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